Stephen Fry on Richard Wagner

Do you like Wagner's music? Do you know who else did? Hitler! Of course, he was also a vegetarian and was opposed to animal cruelty, so maybe we need to disentangle some ideas before we draw any premature conclusions about Wagner.

Yesterday's blog entry on Wagner's Ring Cycle focused primarily on the innovations Wagner introduced to the world of music, and only hinted at the political messages behind the drama, but this is a really big deal and shouldn't be ignored.

The history of Wagner and politics will be forever tainted, not only because of Wagner's own views and sentiments, but because Hitler seems to have found inspiration in the epic Wagnerian mythology for his own twisted ideology, which is of one of the dangers with being unable to separate fantasy from reality...

Given the Nazi appropriation of Wagner's music, and his own unabashed anti-semitism, should we consider Wagner's music valuable? When analyzing concepts, philosophers like to stay clear of committing the fallacy of circumstantial ad hominem (getting distracted from the merits of some idea by the circumstances or motivation of the party proposing said idea).

In other words, one could appreciate the value of the art and ignore what a horrible little man the artist was. The problem with Wagner, however, is that to a large extent his passion and artistic inspiration was fueled by the very same feelings of rancor, hatred and resentment that drove Hitler to be an anti-semite himself, and his music is the offspring of that abhorrent inspiration.

In the following documentary, Stephen Fry explores the life and music of this controversial musical genius and meditates very personally on whether, being himself a Jew living in a post World War II world, he can find Wagner's music redeemable...



Contrary to many who believe Nietzsche provided the 'philosophical' articulation for the Third Reich's racist ideology (they used to listen to Wagner and read Nietzsche), it is worth noting that one of the reasons Nietzsche broke with Wagner (after once having been his young protegé) was precisely because of Wagner's anti-semitism. In a letter to a friend, Nietzsche once spoke of his wish to have all anti-semites shot.

If there was one sense in which Nietzsche had a problem with Judaism, it's that Judaism gave birth to Christianity :)
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